Those first steps? First words? That magical first morning you realize your baby just slept through the night? There’s an app for that. You can track all of it with a simple tap. As parents, we’ve been asked about these developmental milestones by pediatricians, family members, even strangers on the street. As a child psychologist myself, I’ve also focused on these professionally and personally. Recording these milestones has never been easier. But what happens when we reduce development to a list of dates? For most kids, we end up with a pretty generic snapshot of their early years. Those lists fail to honour the development of the relationship between you and your child and your own development as a mom. Here are five developmental mom milestones worth tracking:
It happens. Sleep deprivation combined with the challenges of raising a tiny, little human is a recipe for the occasional loss of one’s shit. And it’s usually over nothing. Not nothing at the time, but nothing when you reflect back on it later wondering how you even reached that point. Those moments feel isolating and may leave you giving yourself less than stellar marks in the parenting department. The truth is that everyone has been there. Here’s the thing: we would all love to avoid those moments but when we only focus on keeping our cool, we may miss out on the equally important opportunity for repair when we eventually do lose it. After you’ve had a chance to calm, talking to your little one and holding yourself accountable, apologizing for your actions, is a powerful way to strengthen that parent-child bond. Talking about what you wished you had done differently or how you can handle it next time is powerful modeling and solidifies your child’s trust in you. They see that you are human too, after all, and they learn about taking responsibility for your actions and knowing that when you do, you are met with love and acceptance.
Maybe your birth didn’t go as planned or maybe you had planned to breastfeed and couldn’t or didn’t or wouldn’t for your own reasons. Maybe you got tired of trying night after night to get that just right “drowsy but awake” and fell asleep with your baby instead. We can spend a lot of time and energy as parents resisting our currently realities, fighting to make it different or better, to achieve the perfection we imagined it would be. As a mom who has fought and surrendered many times, I can tell you, there is peace in the surrender, serenity in letting go. When you stop resisting and accept where you are at, where they are at, you can see the beauty of the moment. Granted, the view may be blurry through those sleep-deprived eyes – but beautiful nonetheless.
For me, the lead up to my husband’s return to work after our twins were born had me questioning whether I would be okay on my own with two newborns. In many ways, it propelled me to find myself as a new mom. I found my rhythm. I found tricks that worked for me and I got to enjoy them in an entirely different way. Sometimes the “I’ve got this” feeling has risen in the face of a challenge like when your baby’s diaper seems to explode while you’re out in a mall and you realize you have only two wipes left. Sometimes it comes in the form of asserting yourself against others who question your parenting choices. However it comes, whenever it comes, celebrate it.
Though I’m a psychologist, asking for help is, ironically, not my forté. Sometimes it’s hard to shake the role of expert. It’s hard to remember that we don’t have to be in control all the time. Yes we celebrate that “I’ve got this” feeling but no one has ALWAYS got this parenting thing under control. My children had never been great sleepers but on this particular day, I had spent hours trying to get my two wailing newborn babies to take a nap. Exhausted, frustrated, and drained, I dissolved into a puddle of tears on my bed next to these helpless, screaming little beings and said, “I’m really sorry but mommy can’t do this”. Luckily for all three of us, I have some incredible people in my life. I messaged my two close friends and asked for help. Both of my friends dropped everything at work and came to our rescue. It didn’t matter that my babies had fallen asleep before my friends arrived. The relief I felt knowing that these women had my back was enough. I’m sure it was my relief, coupled with my surrender (see #2) that finally allowed them to sleep.
We all do some form of “impression management” when we are with other people. At work, we may show one side of ourselves, while with our friends we show another. But no one sees more of you than your child. Our children see us at our best and our worst. And they love us for all of it. At the heart of parenting is learning to do the same for them. When we find it in ourselves to accept our child fully – at their best and worst, not with judgment but with love and guidance – they learn to do the same with others.
So by all means, record all of those beautiful firsts in your child’s life but make that the outline. Colour in the picture with all of the richness that parenting provides- the good, the bad, the dark, and the light. Accept it all, as we are perfectly imperfect parents.